Tag Archives: O Rahm Emanuel

Suzanne Malec-McKenna and the future of Chicago’s environmental programs

November 6 , 2011

A conversation with Suzanne Malec-McKenna, former Commissioner of the former Chicago Department of the Environment

For those of us who had been paying attention, the announcement that Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s 2012 budget did not include funds for Chicago’s Department of the Environment was not exactly a surprise. In fact, even though the department officially ceases to exist as of January 1, 2012, its presence has already been scrubbed from the City of Chicago website and replaced by a page that simply talks about “Environment.”

According to the Emanuel Administration, they wanted sustainability issues to be addressed in a more centralized way. To that end, the city promoted Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert to the Mayor’s Office. The Mayor also created a Sustainability Council–which he will chair–with a mandate to create and deliver a sustainability plan incorporating goals outlined by his transition team and the Chicago Climate Action Plan. It includes the Chief Sustainability Officer and commissioners of Housing and Economic Development, Transportation, Streets and Sanitation, General Services, Water Management, Aviation, Buildings, and Procurement.

Call me skeptical but this also looks like a way to bury environmental concerns deep in the city bueaucracy. By the way, Weigert was on the hot seat a couple of weeks ago at a gathering of environmentalists and concerned citizens who wanted to know when Chicago will get its act together about recycling. Hey, that’s something I ask all the time!

Like I said, all you needed to know about the direction in which the city was headed was when the new mayor took office and immediately fired Suzanne Malec-McKenna as Commissioner of the DOE. Malec-McKenna was appointed commissioner in 2007 and had been a member of the department for seventeen years. Her list of accomplishments is pretty impressive. These are some of the projects that she either helped create or fostered during her tenue:

Greencorps Chicago
Chicago Center for Green Technology
Chicago Conservation Corps (C3)
Calument Stewardship Initiative
Water Quality Unit
Chicago Climate Action Plan
Waste to Profit Network
Energy Action Network
Recycling Block Club Captains
Restoration and Expansion of North Park Village Center

And more. No wonder Chicago’s environmental community already misses her. In fact, I received this email just yesterday from a listener and community activist who heard that Malec-McKenna was going to be on the show:

Suzanne Malec-McKenna has been the champion for the Lake Calumet Area for her years at DOE. We cannot thank her enough for all she has done. We are crushed that she was not asked to be a part of Rahm’s administration. Now that DOEnv. is in danger, we see why.

What are Suzanne’s thought about the Millennium Natural Reserve that the Gov. will announce next week? How can we smooze this into “protection” for our (ever-assaulted) area? Her expertise is more important than ever!

Thank you –

Sharon Rolek
C3 Leader
Lake Cal Area

One thing Malec-McKenna is still proud to be involved with is the The Prairie Research Institute, If you don’t recognize that name, it might be because it was originally called The Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability. From their website:

Created in July of 2008 to house four state scientific surveys — Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) — as a group under the auspices of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign . Then in 2010, the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program (ITARP) became the fifth division under the new name of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey , further expanding the Institute’s research and service capabilities. The Institute’s mission and vision statement reflect the importance of sustaining our state’s natural resources.

Malec-McKenna is currently working on her Ph.D. in communication. Even with unemployment high in America, this is one talented, smart person who should have a bunch of companies lining up to hire her. I’m honored to call her my friend and I’m very pleased that she is taking time to speak to me on the show.

Mike and Mike work on WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Last week, when the Faith in Place folks were on the show, I hinted about the possibility of teaming with them to do a healthy, local and sustainable food drive. Well, it’s pretty much on track and this morning, Mike Sanders of “Our Town” and I will be talking about it on my show.

When I say “healthy, local and sustainable,” it turns out that those are terms that can be difficult to define for a food drive. For instance, if you donate canned tuna, which contains lots of protein and is fairly healthy, it’s probably not local. It might not even be sustainable, depending on how the tuna is being caught. Or maybe you want to donate organic potatoes to the drive. Well, some food banks won’t accept produce because it can spoil. See the problem?

I’ve taken on this challenge as a chance to teach folks about the kinds of foods–and other goods–that can and should be donated to food pantries. As I said, it’s not simple, and I hope my listeners and followers on this site and on Facebook and Twitter will help me figure out things.

The Mike Nowak Show staff (uh, that’s pretty much Kathleen Thompson), has set up a page about our drive that has some basics right now, and will be updated in the next few weeks. I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. We think we will have a number of drop off locations in the Chicago area, and those should be announced by next week.

The drive will be from December 1 to December 11 of this year. On December 4, Mike Sanders and I will have a joint broadcast of Our Town and The Mike Nowak Show from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., when we will talk to food experts, our listeners, and perhaps even welcome people to the WCPT Studios parking lot to drop off their goodies. Perhaps we’ll see you there.

2010 stories that fell through the cracks

December 26, 2010

“O Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel” tops 1,000 views

While I’m not going to take credit for Rahm Emanuel passing the first hurdle in his sprint to become Chicago’s next mayor, I’m not going to rule anything out. After all you can’t buy the kind of publicity that my caroling group,The Frozen Robins, have given him in the past few weeks, thanks to our holiday hit, “O Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel.” Makes me wonder what he’s going to do to get in the public eye now that the holidays are almost over. Well, I’m sure he’ll think of something.

As we lurch toward a new year…what did I miss?

It’s that time of year, kids, when I look back at all of the worthy news stories that should have made it to my program and say, “How the heck did I miss that?” Which is why I am doing my second annual list of stories that caught my eye at one time or another…and which I completely forgot in about twenty seconds.

This might have to be the quote of the year:

A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule. – Michael Pollan
(The quote heads the chapter on herbicides/pesticides in the recent book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things,” by Canadian environmentalists Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.This information was sent to me by listener Jeffrey Kunka)

Under the wire: Year-end contributions you should consider

If you have last minute, end-of-the-year decisions to make about charitable contributions, you might consider one or more of these groups that work tirelessly to save our environment and make life better for everyone in our area. These are some of our favorite groups, most of which have been featured on The Mike Nowak show. Any money sent their way is going to help do some real good.

Angelic Organics Learning Center

Chicago Audubon Society

Chicago Recycling Coalition

Chicago Wilderness

Environment Illinois


Friends of the Chicago River

Friends of the Forest Preserves

Friends of the Parks

Growing Home Chicago

Openlands Project

Safer Pest Control Project

Sierra Club, Illinois

Urban Habitat Chicago

Burning cleaner, the new farming, and “It’s a Wonderful Slice of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life'”

December 19, 2010

“Oh Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel” UPDATE:

My thanks to Beth Botts for filling in for me last week whileThe Frozen Robins and I entertained the kiddies and not-so-kiddies at the Wonderland Express exhibit a the Chicago Botanic Garden. “O Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel” continues to roll along…pretty much like the candidate himself. We now have nearly a thousand views on YouTube. Help us get over the top by clicking on the link above. I don’t make any money on this, nor are there proceeds that go towards some great cause. It just makes me feel like I’m King of the Internets! (How sad is that?)

Going green for the holidays Part I: Enviro-Log

One of the serious drawbacks to the holidays is how much junk (and I mean JUNK!) is produced each year to fill the Christmas maw. You know what I’m talking about. You need a gift for Uncle Pete but you have no idea what he might like. So you pick up some “cute” chotzke that he has no use for, and it ends up in a landfill. It makes me want to join the War Against Christmas.

Some of us are getting smarter about holiday gift-giving. I have some suggestions for ways that you can break the vicious “stupid stuff cycle” below.

Meanwhile, what if you could give a gift–or buy one for yourself–that not only didn’t contribute more junk to landfills, but actually helped to keep stuff out of landfills? I’m talking about the more than 1.5 million wax corrugated cardboard containers that are produced every day in the United States. That translates to 600,000 tons of was containers that are sent to landfills each year.

Enter a company called Enviro-Log. President Ross McRoy says that currently, the only cost-effective way of keeping those containers out of the landfills is a patented process that produces firelogs and firestarter products. If you’re wondering if we’re just exchanging one type of pollution for another–that is to say smoke–Enviro-Logs have a number of benefits over wood. They generate more energy per pound than wood or other firelog brands, burn 60-70 percent cleaner than wood, and can be used for cooking, heating, and recreational purposes.

In addition, burning Enviro-Logs produce 50% more energy per pound and result in 30% less emissions, including 80% less carbon monoxide and 86% less creosote. In addition, The firelog product is listed by the California EPA, supported by the USDA and Georgia Department of Natural Resources. I’m not saying that you should build a fireplace just to use this product, but if you already have one, it might not be a bad idea. You can also follow Enviro-Log on Facebook.

Going Green for the holidays Part II: Worthy Organizations

As I mentioned before, we would all be a lot better off if we didn’t buy so much stuff–regardless of what “experts” tell you about jump-starting the economy. Frankly, I don’t believe that the worth of our country should be determined by how much we purchase. Nearly a quarter of all retail goods move out of stores and into homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas That’s grotesque.

So if, in these last few days before Christmas, you’re looking for some alternative gift ideas, or even some ways to assuage your guilty conscience, here’s a short, and by no means comprehensive list f ideas.

It’s a Wonderful Show!

Well, I like to think that it is every week, but I mean something different. For the second year, I will be performing my holiiday piece, “It’s a Wonderful Slice of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life'” LIVE on the radio. I’ve taken the entire movie and mashed it into under fifteen minutes. I play all of the characters except Mary, who will be done by producer Heather Frey.

There will also be another guest artist this year. Jim Solum is a listener who tracked me down at the Chicago Botanic Garden last Sunday while I was caroling. I wouldn’t exactly say he’s blackmailing me, but he did videotape a lot of the performance by the Frozen Robins. To make sure that the tape stays in the right hands, he will be apearring via phone during “Wonderful Slice” today. I haven’t even given him a role yet. I’m still too worried about the videotape…

(UPDATE: The podcast of “It’s a Wonderful Slice of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life'” is now posted.)

Good Growing

Our Good Growing segment features Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. We’re talking about how she and partner Rachel Reklau decided to go into farming (they’ve been doing it for about a year). Their farm is part of an incubator program that allows them to have access to land they don’t own. Their farming home is Primrose Farm Park, a 1930s heritage dairy/livestock farm in St. Charles, Illinois. They are their first “incubating” farmers, meaning that they lease land and equipment, such as tractors and implements, from Primrose .

Kim and Rachel, who employ organic practices, grow on two acres and keep two in cover crop, which helps build the soil for future years of growing. So, like many of us, they commute to work. The difference is that we might go to an office or a retail establishment or even a radio station, while they go to the farm. We’ll also discuss their  “feed a family” program where they provide produce to a families in need.

My thanks to the good folks at Angelic Organics Learning Center for setting up this interview.